American Masters


Anik Khan: Street Level

Filmmaker Sofian Khan explores the music of Anik Khan, the Bangladesh-born, Queens, NY-raised hip-hop artist whose music sketches the immigrant experience with rare poetic flare and incisive depth, with a whole masala of influences at his fingertips.

AIRED: October 05, 2020 | 0:13:09

(plane engine roars)

- [Narrator] I was born in Taka Bangladesh.

I moved to this country when I was four years old

to Queens New York.

(soft piano music)

Growing up in Queens

Sometimes we just wanted to get in the cab,

get on 36 ave

and leave Queens and just go see the skyline.

Roosevelt Island,

is an Island in between

Manhattan and Queens.

And we'd go out there and we'd just listen to music and just

stare out.

(all laughing)

And like for them two hours, everything felt fine.

If you can like to draw,


to us that's what it would look like.

The skyline.

(soft piano music)

♪ What bro

♪ What

♪ Fax bro, this is all fax

♪ Men lie women lie

♪ Stats don't

♪ Fax bro, really big fax

♪ Yeah

♪ I'm the one to put it on my back though ♪

♪ I'm the one who's showing of the ankles ♪

♪ Came up of an island so I'm thankful ♪

♪ You know I gotta gerrit till the banks close ♪

♪ Fax bro

(car engine roars)

(gate squeaking)

- I had another thought like we (laughs)

we pull up in something like this in my life

while I lived here,

you know.

After the house got foreclosed,

my sister still lived there and I just moved in here

and I got,

I'd slept in a bunk bed with like the nephews

and then my mother and my father

slept like we got them like a room when we came back here.

- Damn bro.

- And he lived there for six years and then now I got an RA

parked in it.

- Long way,

its a long way

- Now we got an RA parked in it fuck is you talking about.

We used to be here all night till like

two, three in the morning just

making songs.

And and this little thing, then

how you?

- Hello bro.

(upbeat music)

- How did we meet?

- We were at

- Andrews event

- Yes, meeting andrew

- You were selling mix tapes out of your backpack

- I was selling mix tapes.

(all laughing) - That's how me met (laughs)

- My boy.

- And then I listened to it and I texted him and I was like,

love it,

love it.

Come to the studio.

- who got ya.

Who Got you.


- Cause you know It depends who's listening

they wanna hear,

they gonna hear something different

you know what I'm saying.

(oil sizzling)

(alarm beeping)

- Pick it up

(oil sizzling)

- I made a second family out of the people

who understood me.

I'm very appreciative.

So work with a bunch of friends,

like a classic rap plan. Nobody would fall.

Cause everyone will be each other's crutches.

Like when Jay said that on feeling it,

you just want to hold down your team.

And my team to me

is the people that I want to be able to break bread with.

- Yo, what is that?

- It's a Jamaican drink.

They make, they take sorrel from the root and then they,

I don't know what they do to it.

- This is torture

- it's one of the most delicious thing

I've ever had in my life and it unders ramen here.

- Lets pray.

God is good. God is great.

Let us thank him for this food and for friends.

thank you for friends that become family

may you nourish our bodies

and amen

- Amen.

- Amen.

- Showing my family

like my friends that became family,

who I am as a person.

- I see us.

- Was extremely important to me

because I think just

as Brown men and women,

we've had to deal with that.

Our entire lives.

We had our home.

Then we had our life outside.

I tried my best to balance that

and I don't have it separated any longer.

(energetic piano music)

♪ Posted in the parking lot

♪ Looking for habibi

♪ Should be looking for habibi

♪ I'm the plug

♪ I'm the plug

♪ The call me habibi

- Are you taking a picture

- I'm taking a video, man,

- What video?

- that video

go put your clothes on

(all laughing)

put you in an outfit. I got you.

That's not it, bro.

You do.

You gotta go wear it out.

I told you

- We gotta do the standard version.

- My father taught me that

there's no such thing as friends.

- I forgot it, I forgot (indistinct).

- You got people that you consider

and you treat like family,

and then you have acquaintances

and that's really it.

- Look at g

- Oh wow.

- Just like you Jamaican

and you love showing me about sorrel.

Imma show you about biryani

and bor honey.

And you bought to come to the crib.

You bought to eat with your hands.

That's what Queens is.

All of that is a part of my DNA

and why my friend circle looks like the United nations

(all laughing)

and why in my music,

sounds like the United nations is cause

I'm in Queens, New York city.

(upbeat music)

Looking my lyrics.

There's a lot of self reflection of just a Brown kid

growing up in New York.

And what that looks like

mine just happens to be within a black and Brown experience.

It's a melting pot of all of that.

(energetic music)

♪ She breaks it out

♪ We break the ceiling

(energetic pop music)

♪ She breaks it out

♪ We break the ceiling ♪ We break the ceiling, yo ♪

♪ Shorty threw the bag like she on me ♪

♪ Like she on me

♪ So I brought her to the borough for the roti ♪

♪ You see the habibis they the homie ♪

♪ You say you bad

- My parents moved in

because of political asylum.

And finally, 27 years later,

a night that I couldn't even sleep.

I get in the car with my father

and I drive to long Island

(gentle piano music)

and I walk outside of the car and I see this

building that damn near look like a jail.

I had to remind myself that something

great is happening today.

I'm not going into a courtroom

to plead not guilty.

(soft piano music)


I did it

it's cool

I don't know how to feel.

Is that weird?

I have no idea how to feel.

That's what I'm not doing,

taking the picture in front of two white men.

Let's go.

Just cause I didn't have the piece of paper.

Didn't mean that I wasn't an American

at least for me.

But by the end of the day,

I'm extremely proud to be an American citizen.

(upbeat music)

I had a song that went number four on the charts in Europe.

I got booked for Amsterdam,



I was like, bro, I wish I could.

I can't come back if I do

I missed not only money,

but I've missed opportunities

and that hurt a lot.

Made me stop making music for two years.

Maybe just be like,

maybe I should just keep locally rapping about Queens.


at this point I don't feel like I'm ever going to get

(upbeat music)

to me it's the freedom that makes

having my citizenship, the most important thing,

to freedom to do the things I need to do

♪ She gon smoke the whole night fill the lighter ♪

♪ She gon make some mulla fill the lighter ♪

♪ Mango nectar overstock in my fridge ♪

(train engine roars)

(car engine roars)

- five years ago,

success to me look like

I wanted to be

the guy that sold out Madison square,

you know,

- [Narrator] five years later.

But I'm more trying to do

is give

something back to people

in a real way.

(bouncy music)

- We bought

property in Manhattan

and opened up

the first Bengali owned

chai cafe.

- Nice.

- You can fit 15 people standing up inside

and there's 1200 reservations.

- Yeah that's exactly how good stuff starts.

- so we'll see how that goes.

- Yeah.That's gonna be fine.

- Everybody probably came and got a cut from you yesterday,

before they going over there tomorrow

- or you know

a lot of people came yesterday

yes, you're right.

- For real

- Yeah.

- Were they brown?

- Obviously man,

come on man.

(bouncy music)

(air whooshing)

- You funny

(fast piano music)

(car honking)

(car engine roars)

I went home to pick up my mother.

I got it.

And my auntie.

Don't hold there I'm gonna catch you.

They had to

see what their sacrifices

built up to

(car engine roars)

♪ Damn it feels good to begin an immigrant ♪

♪ When we order lunch its only chilli shrimp ♪

♪ Mixing up masala with the militant ♪

♪ Shooters on dial but the smile very innocent ♪

♪ Who dat this

♪ Who dat this

♪ Big baba

♪ Foreign

♪ with the timberlands

♪ No prada

♪ With the ♪ Yeah we with the ♪

♪ Don't bother

♪ Get the bread

♪ Split the dividends

♪ Inshallah

♪ My shorty wrists whipping in some bangles ♪

♪ She in this

♪ Cutting up the mangoes

(car engine roars)

- Guess I never would have expected this.

Starting at the farmer's market

a year ago. It was just a hobby.

And now it's something that's very real.

So that, its huge.

It means a lot.

- [Man] Anik, what does this means to you?

- I don't know if I have words. It means

it means that.

SO you can just pan that way.

And that's,

that's what that means.

That's all I got

is that.

We literally come from the mud.

We played outside

and there was mud up to our knees.

I have a shop

in the Manhattan

and I'm from

a village

(bouncy music)

music industry folks can say whatever they want

about me.

Maybe it's good things.

Maybe it's bad things.

What's more important for me

is having the space for people that look like me

and also people who don't look like

but relate to me

and be able to be like,

this was built

on the same beliefs

that I have.

Yo, we gotta start clearing the block.

We got to start a single file.

There a little bit

clear the block so people can walk down now.

I appreciate you

Now that I could be a full time artist

and travel the world.

Now it's time to

let me know that I'm never not gonna feel like an immigrant

but outside of knowing

that this is

what I grew up with.


who I am.

(upbeat music)

♪ Back to the borough

♪ Back to the borough

♪ Back to the borough yeah, yeah ♪

♪ I think yo think for the streets ♪ You don't know me ♪

♪ You don't know me

♪ I'm stacking bread, who's the homies ♪

♪ I want the world and the one that you all owe me ♪

♪ But the won't let you have them both ♪

♪ You see what they did to Nip we got a lot to question ♪

♪ You bring the black and blessings ♪

♪ And the got to arrest us


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